Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Microsoft Launches Site for On Demand Public Sector

Yesterday, Microsoft launched the web portal www.publicsectorondemand.com/ to provide information on public sector solutions which are available on demand (otherwise known as hosted or software as a service).

The site is designed as a virtual community for people to discuss their ideas and essentially brainstorm on these solutions. Check it out and post your own ideas in the community.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Microsoft Tag -- Living in the Digital World

I just heard about an exciting technology from Microsoft called Microsoft Tag. It allows your cellphone to read codes which look more like an argyle sweater than a barcode.

There are a host of real world applications Microsoft describes such as:
  1. Magazine ads. The tag can steer to user toward more information or a place to buy the product. A few years ago I received a demo barcode unit called Cue Cat which was a USB device, but somehow I never got around to reading magazines with a cat-shaped barcode reader dangling from my laptop.
  2. Real estate listings. Scan the tag to get to the detailed listing for a property. You should stop the car first, though.
  3. Bus or train schedule. Scan a tag printed at your stop to get up-to-date schedule information or even realtime location of your transportation.
  4. Security device. Scan a tag and use your phone credentials to access information or for physical access.
  5. Movie trailer. View a print ad and scan the tag to see the trailer video.

Microsoft Tag works with most smartphones and many others, including Windows Mobile, iPhone, and Blackberry. A camera is required for a phone to be supported.

The software is in beta form now so go and try it out. The software is free for now, and Microsoft will support tags you make today for at least two years.

This Economic Downturn is Different

This weekend I was struck by the level of desperation in the reporting on the U.S. economic downturn in the Washington Post. Nearly every section of the paper was dominated by this bad news and worse prospects, from politics to business and even the normally style and food sections. Soon we will see articles on garbage bag fashions and stone soup recipes.

Perhaps this pessimism is warranted by the sheer scale of the problem, and the unfortunate results from the cures being attempted. But I think another factor in the reporting is that it comes during the final gasps of paid journalism as we know it. Reporters are not just sitting on the sidelines and excoriating the rich and the greedy. Unlike previous recessions, they don't have to go far to talk to people who have been laid off. They just have to visit the cube next door.

Therefore, the economic crisis is up close and personal for reporters, and the sense of desperation is real. Will this new perspective lead to better, more accurate, or at least more interesting reporting? Will the reporting make the recession last longer? Only time will tell.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Time to Clean House

Spring is nearly here, and it looks like a bit of spring cleaning will begin soon at the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCTO). According to the Washington Post, last Thursday Yusuf Acar, the District's acting chief security officer, was charged with bribery in a kickback scheme to bill the District government for products and services that were not delivered. Sushil Bansal, the owner of Advanced Integrated Technologies, was also charged in the crimes. These arrests are part of an ongoing investigion by the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

This alleged corruption is a body blow to DC's progress in cleaning up its act and to Mayor Fenty's aspirations to make bold progress on the challenges facing the nation's capital. The city cannot afford to waste money and precious time with so many urgent public priorities.

The entire nation will watch to see how the DC and Federal governments respond. Both Mayor Fenty and President Obama have the opportunity to raise the standard for government contracting. By acting decisively to eliminate the revolving door in government contracting and tightening ethics standards, they can restore faith in government and keep important projects on track.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

InfoStrat Contributes Surface Software to CodePlex

This week we have published some of our software for Microsoft Surface on CodePlex, making it available to the broader development community.

"InfoStrat.VE allows WPF and Microsoft Surface developers to take full advantage of Virtual Earth 3D with minimal overhead. Simply reference the dll, add a single VEMap control to your XAML, and you have a map! The control eliminates the Win32 Interop restrictions, so you can do everything with this VE control that you could do with any native WPF control, including:
Overlay items (no more transparent windows!)
Rotate and transform the map within the interface (no more boring rectangles, bring on the 360 degree interfaces!)
Use the map within a Visual Brush (you know you want faded reflections!)”

Hats off to Josh Blake and Josh Wall for the creativity, initiative and technical skills to provide an important piece to the broader Microsoft Single View Platform.

See what Marc Schweigart is saying about it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Inspired Today

Today I was inspired. That's not something I can say every day.

I attend a great many meetings and hear many speakers, but today I heard a presentation that really made me rethink an important area of public policy.

The speaker was Clarence H. Carter, the Director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Human Services. Mr. Carter was addressing a group of technology companies that offer health and welfare solutions.

The thrust of the presentation is that we have lost sight of the true goals of human services programs. We are spending too much time tracking the inputs and efficiency of distribution of the system and not enough time looking at the real results -- improving the quality of life for people who need a helping hand from government. Programs are divided into silos and people are forced to shuttle back and forth, applying and reapplying multiple times.

He argued that the fundamental rules of the game must change in order to make significant progress. If you were starting from scratch there is no way you could imagine, much less create, the Byzantine programs that are currently in place. Federal government forces states to comply with complicated rules and essentially creates the silos out of the gate. The status quo is maintained by the government and industry groups who benefit from the complexity of the system. Little wholistic consideration is made of the aid recipient, even though it is common for a person to need help from more than one program.

Technology is not the main problem, but rather entrenched interests and the resulting turf battles. Even well meaning advocacy groups end up competing for a fixed set of resources rather than uniting for their common causes.

That there are entrenched interests and turf battles is not exactly a news flash. What may be different today, however, is that our economic downturn may exhaust the patience of leaders and encourage more dramatic departures.

Funding is not really the problem either, as vast amounts of funding are devoted to social programs, but perhaps not properly allocated to achieve government goals.

The only thing I didn't like about his talk is that I had to follow him at the podium, and he set a high bar for me.

I'm a DC resident, not lifelong but for over 20 years, and I have chosen to raise my family in the District of Columbia. Mr. Carter makes me proud of DC government and hopeful that we can make progress in the pressing challenges that lie ahead. He also bolsters my faith in the judgment of Adrian Fenty for having the courage to choose Mr. Carter.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gathering the Latest on Microsoft Hosted Solutions

Last week I attended the Microsoft Hosting Summit in Bellevue, Washington, to learn about new developments in hosting products, services and technologies.


Microsoft has made significant progress in improving its hosting platform in the past five years. For instance, the latest generation of Microsoft server software has enhanced tools for managing and provisioning servers. I saw impressive demos of the latest techniques for providing servers quickly as needed.


I came away realizing that Microsoft is serious about its philosophy of Software + Services. It is different than the Software as a Service (SaaS) paradigm which holds that hosted software is inherently superior to on-premise deployment of solutions. Microsoft believes that customers need choices and options.

For some customers, starting in a hosted deployment provides a quicker path to get solutions up and running, removing the need to acquire and configure hardware or worry about network infrastructure. Other customers may started on premise and move to hosting in order to meet growing customer demands.

Microsoft's Software+Services approach means that the same code base is used, regardless of where the solution is deployed. The solution does not have to be rewritten to be moved to a new server, providing flexibility that all customers should appreciate.